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Posted on Aug 25, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101: 029 – The Defense

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


Delay – This is a form of retrograde where a unit under pressure trades space (terrain) for time. It does this by slowing the enemy’s momentum (physically and hopefully psychologically) and inflicting damage (casualties, destroying assets, etc.) on the enemy without becoming decisively engaged. The last part is the most challenging! It is extremely difficult to achieve the above without becoming decisively engaged. If this occurs the objective of the delay will not be achieved.



Withdrawal – This is a form of retrograde in which a unit is in contact but not necessarily under pressure. In this operation, the unit disengages from the enemy and moves to an assembly area or a new defensive position. A unit may conduct a withdrawal unassisted or with assistance from other friendly forces.


Retirement — This is a form of retrograde in which the unit is not in contact with the enemy and wants to move away to prepare for other operations. Obviously, this is the easiest (not that any of the forms is easy to execute) to conduct and involves the least risk. Normally, units executing a retirement will move away from the enemy in a tactical road march. As in any combat operation, a unit should be prepared to fight, but the chances of this are less likely than in a delay or withdrawal.

It is critical in all forms of retrograde that a commander follows a set of principles which will assist in mission accomplishment. These include: 1) Avoid decisive engagement with the enemy. If this occurs, the chances of accomplishing the retrograde operation are extremely remote. 2) Deny the enemy information on the operation. You can’t tip your hand too early to your opponent. 3) Use deception to buy yourself critical time. 4) Command and control is paramount. A retrograde operation has the potential to quickly turn into utter chaos. Positive and firm command and control can diminish that potential. 5) Even though you are moving backwards, you must ensure Soldiers do not let a defeatist attitude overcome them. Once again, positive leadership at all levels is a necessity.

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